1.(a) Question: What is the meaning of the words in the Anumodanarambha-gatha: “sabbe purentu sankappa”, which is translated as: “may all your wishes be fulfilled”. As the eightfold path is a path of renunciation and letting go, is it helpful, if all wishes are fulfilled?
1.(a) The giving of this blessing is giving strength of heart. The blessing you mention relates to success in ways that accord with siladhamma [virtue/morality], that which does not harm oneself or others.
For children, this could be to succeed in school; a bit older, to succeed in one’s exams; and, even older, to succeed in work—work that is in line with siladhamma. This is the giving of strength of heart to the listener.
Even higher than this is the building and development of goodness, such as in Right Livelihood, but, in this case, one is not yet at the point of overcoming dukkha [stress/suffering]. Depending on one’s circumstances, one should know how to live life as a couple, in a relationship, as a family, or having a job—knowing how to live life well given these different conditions.
Even higher than this is to succeed in doing goodness, doing dana [generosity], and cultivating lovingkindness. One gives this blessing, for instance, after an individual gives dana to the Sangha [monastic community], having made merit with the Sangha, and the Sangha has lovingkindness to give strength of mind to help one succeed.
For a Dhamma practitioner, success can relate to dana and sila, which result in happiness. However, the practitioner sees that this happiness is not permanent. The practitioner sees the drawbacks in conditioned phenomena—sees that they are anicca, not lasting, sees that old age, sickness, and death are inevitable, and sees the drawbacks in the world. Having seen in this way, one walks the Noble Eightfold Path of sila, samadhi, and panya [virtue, collectedness/concentration, and wisdom]. One develops samadhi, develops the mind, and contemplates the body as empty: merely a heap of elements; as not me, not mine, and not a self. This is seeing the Dhamma. This is developing true happiness.
1.(b). Is it true that for wishes to be fulfilled they need the right causes and conditions ?
1.(b). This is correct—one must develop merit and build the causes, as well. One builds wisdom, viriya—energy and effort—and one does not just get the blessing, but one also practices for oneself. One gets the blessing but must also lay down the causes on one’s own. Higher than this is to contemplate Dhamma to overcome dukkha.
2. Question: Could you please explain the deeper meaning of the words: “Mettāya, bhikkhave, cetovimuttiyā āsevitāya bhāvitāya bahulīkatāya yānīkatāya vatthukatāya anuṭṭhitāya paricitāya susamāraddhāya ekādasānisaṃsā pāṭikaṅkhā. Katame ekādasa?” [English translation: “Bhikkhus, for one whose awareness-release through good will is cultivated, developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, and well-undertaken, eleven benefits can be expected. Which eleven?”]
2. This is when we are developing metta until we reach cetovimutti, liberation of mind. In other words, we practice metta continuously until our mind is firmly established in samadhi. We can then use this samadhi to reflect on all phenomena as not-self. When we do more and more of this metta practice, it becomes a vehicle for us. Our training in metta will gradually lead us to higher and higher levels of inner stability and peace and it will gradually accumulate more strength. Metta practice is one form of samatha, tranquility, practice. When we practice metta consistently, our mind will feel at ease and become still. It will be a cause for samadhi to arise, and it may lead to a state of appana samadhi. We then use this samadhi to reflect and contemplate until the insight of vipassana arises—until wisdom arises. This is how the mind is liberated through the development of metta. This is cetovimutti. In this way, samadhi is developed first and then followed by contemplation.
Sometimes we practice metta and the mind becomes still and peaceful. Or it may be that we do contemplation, then metta arises through this, we keep contemplating, metta arises again, and we keep doing this until eventually the mind is brought to peace. This is metta pañña vimutti, liberation through lovingkindness and wisdom.
3. Question: May you please explain the refinement levels of all the Silas, starting in the mind. Are there some special Suttas, which would be helpful to get a better understanding in this respect?
3. To put it simply, what is of greatest importance when it comes to sila is our intention. Just like the story of Sumitta, the daughter from a wealthy family who was married to a hunter and helped prepare his weapons. People would look at her as lacking in morality, but, in reality, her intention was established in sila. Even though she lived with her husband who made a living through hunting deer, she never had the intention to kill any living beings. In this way, our intention is established in sila.
As the Buddha taught: cetanāhaṁ bhikkhave sı̄laṁ vadāmi – “Intention is the essence of moral training.” This is also how Ajahn Chah would teach. Do not overcomplicate it. The main purpose of sila is to take care of our bodily and verbal conduct in order to make the mind peaceful and at ease so that we can develop samadhi. The purpose is also not to cause harm to anyone.
When it comes to sila, one should not fall into obsessively finding fault. Do not dwell on thoughts like “Oh, my mind is not pure anymore, my sila is not good.” These kinds of thoughts will just cause us more distress. We should keep reminding ourselves that the purpose of sila is for the development of samadhi. Do not let it become a source of worry, because that is not what it is for. Sila is for making our mind peaceful.
4. Question: I am living in a partnership and would like to know more about the importance of the Brahmacarya [celibacy] vow. Could Ajahn Anan explain the refinement levels of such a Brahmacarya life. If I take the 8 precepts – is it okay to just live a celibate life or should I additionally take other points into consideration?
4. If one undertakes the brahmacarya vow, the celibate life, this gives one more time and opportunity to be alone and secluded, to practice and be less involved with others. This gives one more opportunity to bring the mind to peace and samadhi. With a partner, children, other family, and so on, it is more difficult to find this opportunity.
If one lives with a partner and the partner agrees to one’s undertaking the celibate life, then one can do this and realize samadhi more easily. A couple can undertake celibacy one day per week or more, but do not let this become a problem within one’s family or relationship.
For individuals with sufficient parami from the past, they may live as a couple; then, when it is time to put things down, they are able to know and see the Dhamma, just like Lady Visakha and Anathapindika. Even in this example, we can see that the young daughter of Anathapindika, Sumana, attained to sakadagami, once-returner, a higher level of awakening then her father. Sumana was able to achieve this because she had comparatively few duties and responsibilities. Lady Visakha and Anathapindika both had a spouse and a great many duties and responsibilities.
Therefore, the brahmacarya life gives one more solitude and is of a higher quality; one is able to realize the enlightenment level of anagami, non-returner, in this way.
Be determined. If you live alone, live the brahmacarya life, and if you live as a couple then be determined to make effort and practice more.
‘In the same way the sun lights the world, the Dhamma lights the mind.
There is no light, which is as bright as the light of wisdom.
There is no light, which is brighter than the light of wisdom.
There is no light equal to the light of wisdom.’
I would like to know, if the light of wisdom and the light of universal love are not equal and in what way are they different then?
5. Cultivating metta, lovingkindness, for all beings brings about the happiness of samadhi [collectedness/concentration]. The mind that is then gathered in samadhi is able to see anatta, not-self, clearly, which is wisdom. The pure mind, having been purified by wisdom, then has metta included in it.
In the beginning, lovingkindness is used to develop the mind to be collected in samadhi, which is one type of light. Then one sees anatta, the mind is pure through wisdom, and metta is part of this pure mind. Metta samadhi has degradation. The purified mind, with metta as a part of it, is lokuttara—beyond the world.
6. Question: Taking Ven. Sariputta as the one disciple with highest wisdom, is it correct to say that he set the causes in all his many previous lives in samsara for this highest wisdom and when he became an Arahat, the Dhamma did flow through his mind and words, based on all these set causes, which reflected his huge wisdom?
6. Yes, this is correct. Ven. Sariputta built great amounts of parami, spiritual virtues, in the past. Even in the time of the past Buddha Anumodassi, he already had a high level of wisdom. In that life, Ven. Sariputta was an ascetic named Sarada with a retinue of 84,000 followers. On one occasion, the Buddha and his disciples came to visit Sarada and his retinue. After the Sangha sat in deep meditation for seven days and seven nights, the Buddha and his two chief disciples gave Dhamma discourses, whereupon all 84,000 followers realized arahantship. Sarada did not attain to arahantship; instead, he made the aspiration to become the Right-Hand Chief Disciple of a future Buddha, having been inspired by the Right-Hand Chief Disciple of Buddha Anumodassi, named Nisabha.
Ven. Sariputta went on to build even more parami, which took a long time, in order to succeed in his aspiration. He had more wisdom then all the other arahant disciples, even more than the other 80 great disciples of the Buddha. Ven. Sariputta was known as the Marshal of the Dhamma, the Dhammasenapati. He could teach Dhamma in place of the Buddha. Just like a supreme commander has right and left hand chief commanders to help him, just so, every Buddha has right and left hand chief disciples.
7. (a) Question: I have a question regarding the spreading of lovingkindness, metta, to all beings. If I spread this lovingkindness equally to all the beings, is it correct to just let flow peace as wide as it goes into all directions simultaneously?
7. (a) This is correct. We spread metta in all directions—above, below, front, and back, wishing for all beings to be free from hostility and free from danger. In the same way that a mother loves the child in her womb, just so do we spread our love to all beings.
7. (b). If I remember certain groups of beings to whom I would like to send Metta, may I then also just observe somehow neutrally with a kind mind these groups of people and places and go ahead as if I would visit them in their dwellings?
7. (b) Yes, that is correct. When we spread metta, it is like sending our mind out to reach them. If the recipient’s mind has the calmness of samadhi and is sensitive enough, they may be able to feel this metta.
8. Question: To what extend is it a person’s responsibility to point out and/or correct people—for example about a break of sila [morality/virtue]. As far as I know, the intention should remain wholesome as much as possible (the best way unintentional). I notice and sometimes admit to myself that my mind vacillates between trying to connect and rejecting the behaviour of the other person. Most of the time I act and accept the unwholesome. I tell myself how else do I want to practise.
8. If you find yourself disliking others’ behaviour, that is okay. Just be aware of that reaction of disliking. When someone does something wrong, and you feel disliking, this is normal. We notice that feeling of disliking, and we put it down; we let it go. We can reflect that others act like this because of their ignorance. The ignorance in their mind is the cause of their wrong actions, wrong speech, or wrong thinking. We just reflect that: “Someone with ignorance is just like this”. We also remind ourselves that it is unlikely that we will be able to overcome their ignorance.
When others fall into ignorance like that, if we then react through delusion by feeling upset or angry about it, then this is allowing that ignorance to enter and take control of our own hearts, as well. We should therefore put our main focus on overcoming the ignorance in our own hearts.
As for other people’s ignorance, we have to let go of that and let it be in accordance with nature. For ourselves, we need to train to notice and catch our own ignorance when it arises. When we feel disliking or ill-will, we notice that feeling and we let go of it. Sometimes we may feel angry, but we let it go—we don’t feed the anger or let it turn into vengeance.
9. (a) Question: In order to act in a more unifying manner in everyday conversations, opinions and views, what kind of conditions are important that I can contemplate?
9. (a) It’s fine to express different opinions, but one should not argue and quarrel over them. Keep in mind the good intentions and commitment of all parties involved. It is normal that sometimes our views differ from one another. We should still strive to maintain a sense of communal harmony. This harmony is something valuable that will help empower and encourage us. We do not split into factions, nor do we have an us-versus-them attitude. We see and acknowledge the good intentions of everyone. For ourselves, we need to be aware of the wishes and desires of each person, including our self. Do not hold on to or attach to your own views.
9. (b) On the one hand I’m thinking of Metta [lovingkindness], Karuna [compassion], and Mudita [sympathetic joy]. How can these levels of wisdom (cinta-maya panna) be strengthened by contemplation? What other causes and conditions are important to know/contemplate in this context?
9. (b) If we all act out of conceit and hold strongly onto our own views, it will be very difficult to have harmony in the community. Each person needs to let go of their conceited views and instead focus on our common goals; we need to unify so that we can all work together towards our goal of attaining, knowing and seeing the Dhamma.
It is normal that, at times, there are objections or grudges and that people have an us-versus-them attitude. But, for ourselves, we should not follow this kind of divisive thinking. We should be willing to make compromises and to give in if necessary within the bounds of siladhamma. We may not always be in agreement, but sometimes we can go along with the ideas of others, and sometimes others will go along with our own ideas. Find things that will help unite and bring harmony to the community with an attitude of metta. Do not fall into conceit or have a strong sense of self.
10. Question: How do I strengthen patience and endurance?
10. See and contemplate the drawbacks of not having patient endurance and the advantages of having patient endurance.
Study the history of Lord Buddha, how the Lord Buddha had great patient endurance parami. One can study and reflect on the Khantivadi Jataka, where the Bodhisattva was tortured by a king and attained the utmost level of patient endurance parami.
One’s goal is nibbana. When greed, aversion, and delusion arise, then practice patient endurance. Patiently endure dukkha.
[The Khantivadi Jataka tale can be found here: https://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j3/j3014.htm]
11. Question: To walk as a group towards Nibbana or to walk alone towards Nibbana, what kind of a difference with regards to later Dhamma-effects will this bring?
11. There is no difference. If one goes as a group, it can be like Venerable Yasa and his friends. Ven. Yasa practiced with his 54 friends in the past, then, in his final life, Ven. Yasa saw the Dhamma and realized arahantship first. These 54 friends, all of whom were close with Ven. Yasa, saw that the Buddhasasana must be very excellent because Ven. Yasa had immense wealth that he sacrificed in order to go ordain and was an intelligent person. Therefore, they thought that this Buddhasasana must be extraordinary.
The 54 friends went to listen to the Dhamma from the Buddha and succeeded in seeing the Dhamma, all 54 of them. All the friends succeeded in seeing the Dhamma in their own hearts. Before this success, however, they practiced together as a group. A group may succeed in seeing the Dhamma at the same time, or some group members a little bit before or some a little bit after others.
One can also look at the example of the three Kassapa brothers from the time of the Buddha: Uruvela Kassapa, the eldest with a retinue of 500 disciples, Nadi Kassapa, the middle brother with a retinue of 300, and Gaya Kassapa, the youngest, with a retinue of 200. The older brother, Uruvela Kassapa, went forth first then the middle, then the youngest brother, in that order. Then all the brothers and their disciples listened to the Fire Sermon and all realized arahantship together during that discourse. In this case they practiced together and saw the Dhamma together.
12. Question: Can you explain to us a bit more the words: Apacayanamaya [humility or reverence]; Ditthujukamma [straightening one’s views or forming correct views]?
12. Ajahn Anan said he would answer this question with Dhamma talks. Please see especially the talks from the week of November 15 onward or so, and especially the ongoing Friday night Dhamma videoconference talks for detailed expositions on these topics. [For example, the talks found online such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfcA3_7n74I]
“Even though there might be thick clouds all around, the sun actually stays as bright as always, even if it’s hard to see. Just like this, even if the hindrances or defilements are thick and heavy, the mind stays as bright as always even if it’s hard to see.”
The statement, that the mind stays as bright as always, indicates that the hindrances or defilements are in no way influencing the brightness of the mind. The mind seems to be fully unaffected by all the kilesas. In the Pabhassara Sutta (AN 1.49-52) it is said that the mind is luminous but also defiled by incoming defilements, and later it is freed from incoming defilements through bhavana practice. How can it then stay as bright as always? On the other hand, if the mind would NOT be as bright as always, one would have no chance to purify the mind. Could you please give some deeper explanations?
13. In the beginning of our practice, sense impressions enter our mind, and our mind is still lacking in mindfulness and samadhi. Then the mind gets mixed with those sense impressions, like clouds covering the moon. The sense impressions cover the mind and get mixed with the mind so that we no longer see the brightness of the mind.
When the sense impressions have arisen and ceased, the mind is bright. Then new sense impressions enter and mix with the mind, and the mind is no longer aware of the brightness. Later, the mind may become bright for just a moment again. The situation goes back and forth like this, and we do not see the true luminous nature of the mind.
When we have mindfulness, and we are able to see through the sense impressions as they arise and cease, then the mind begins to become more and more luminous—it stabilizes. The clearer we see that all things are impermanent, stressful, and not-self, the more stable the brightness of the mind becomes. The mind gradually increases in brightness like the waxing moon, a little brighter each day, until the mind becomes awakened—Buddha. Then, even when sense impressions come, they simply arise and cease and the mind is as luminous as always. This is what full and complete understanding is like.
In the beginning, we only have a limited understanding of this, so we need to keep practising until, finally, we are able to see through sense impressions. We will then be able to see the mind and sense impressions as two separate things. The mind is one thing and sense impressions are another—they no longer get mixed with each other.
14. Question: Hearing the sound of the heating-system, which starts in the house, one meditator hears this sound and feels very peaceful and calm. She gets waves in the body and mind and even recognizes some smaller waves in her citta [mind]. Can you explain what is happening?
14. One’s attention is fully focused on the sound as a single object – such as the sound of the heater – which, even though it is a human made sound, has a natural and stable quality to it. When we remain in a state of stillness and stay with the sound until the mind becomes peaceful, we may then see refined visions in our body. We may see the energy that is flowing into and throughout the body. We may become aware of the electrical charges in the body that are already all around and throughout the body. We may see this as neutrons, protons and electrons moving around.
This is just how the more refined levels of reality are like—there is fine energy flowing through our bodies that is not visible to the eye. However, if we are well established in samadhi and the mind becomes still and peaceful, we may sometimes see this energy. If our samadhi is strong and wisdom arises, we will then see these phenomena as anatta, not-self.
We can go from seeing this body as being material in nature to seeing the body as consisting of mere energy—of very small particles of energy. When we reflect further on this energy, we can see that it is empty by nature—we see that all phenomena are empty by nature.
15. Ajahn Anan’s response to a sunrise/sunset photograph:
15. This golden sky is beautiful and lovely with an uplifting golden light.
We have the good fortune to be born as humans, to have the opportunity to build goodness, and to develop our minds to higher levels.
As we bring our attention to the sun, we incline our minds and pay homage to the boundless virtues of the Buddha, the boundless virtues of the Dhamma, and the boundless virtues of the Sangha.
When we incline our minds and pay homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in this way, we bring our minds to the Dhamma, which means we contemplate and see arising and passing away. We see the sun rise, gradually cross the sky, and then set. The days come and go; they are ever passing by—there is only arising, staying for a short time, then passing away.
May you have effort to develop your minds, to reach the true Dhamma, and to be able to see the Dhamma.